Thursday’s 300: A MUCH Later Meeting, Part 17

Welcome back to Austen Promises!

The story ended up after edits to actually be a smidge bit shorter. It’s still over 18,000 words, but it’s shy of being a novella. Of course, it’s almost twice as long as I intended it to be. LOL

It is currently on preorder, but I don’t have a Books2Read link yet because I had to change some things in the listing before Apple and all those little stores will accept it. I’ll have a link for you next week. 🙂

I have set the release date for this book as July 16, 2020. I’ll share the final post on July 23, 2020.  Posting at Darcy and Lizzy will commence one day this coming week.

Please be assured that I will finish posting the story! I have never yet left one undone and I don’t plan to begin now.

The story has been divided into chapters, which it wasn’t before. So, what you get today is part of chapter 7 and all of chapter 8. It’s just over 4,000 words, so it will be a nice, long read for you. 🙂

Once the final post is made, I’ll leave it up for a week, then take down all but the first post. I’ve done the same with all my others, as far as I can remember. 🙂

You’ll find the first post here.

Post two is here.

Post three is here.

Post four is here.

Post five is here.

Post six is here.

Post seven is here.

Post eight is here.

Post nine is here.

Post ten is here.

Post eleven is here.

Post twelve is here.

Post thirteen is here.

Post fourteen is here.

Post fifteen is here.

Part sixteen is here.

Did you know that for a monthly pledge of as little as $1 at Patreon, you can have early access to all my blog posts, including my Thursday ones? Patrons also get a free copy of each of my books once it is complete.

~~~***~~~

A week later, Darcy stomped into Netherfield, fuming. He had been to Longbourn every day and every single visit with the lovely Elizabeth had been interrupted by her friend. Not only that, at every dinner and card party – and there had been an abundance of them – Charlotte Collins had inserted herself between him and the object of his affection. Darcy had long ago learned to treat others less meanly than he had been raised to do, but Mrs. Collins was enough to make him forget himself and fall back into old habits. If only I was certain of Elizabeth’s feelings. Heaving a great sigh, he marched up the stairs to his chambers, intent on refreshing himself and changing his clothes.

An hour later, his ablutions completed and his temper somewhat regulated, Darcy joined his nephew in the billiards room.

“Good afternoon. How was your visit?” The viscount stood from where he had been bent over the table, lining up a shot.

Darcy rolled his eyes. “It was fine. Too short.” He walked to the long case in the corner and chose a cue stick.

Hucknall stood his stick on end, his hands wrapped around it just under the tip. He tilted his head. “You were gone quite a while. What happened?”

Darcy’s lips flattened. “Mrs. Collins happened.”

The viscount winced. “I am sorry. I thought the reason you went to Longbourn so early was to avoid her.”

“It was. However, Mrs. Collins seems to have somehow discovered that fact and came to see Miss Bennet on some pretext or other.” Darcy gestured to the table, silently asking his nephew’s permission to rack the balls for a new game.

Hucknall nodded. “How did Miss Bennet react?”

“She seemed a bit put out, to be honest. She is always gracious in her responses but I could swear I saw frustration and a bit of anger in her countenance, just for a brief second.” Darcy shook the rack back and forth to tighten the balls, then lifted it.

“She welcomed her friend, though?” Hucknall leaned forward and placed the cue ball on the felt top of the table and shot it at the triangle of balls.

“She did. After that brief flash, no one would be able to guess her feelings were anything other than pleasant.” Darcy noted to himself that Hucknall had sunk a solid-colored ball but kept talking. “She did her best to steer the conversation away from me and my interests, as well.”

“Do you think Miss Bennet understands your distress at the situation?” Hucknall took another shot, cursing under his breath when his ball bounced off his uncle’s and knocked it into a pocket.

Darcy grinned at his nephew’s mistake. He took a position at the table and lined up a shot. “I do not know and I refuse to speculate. I was arrogant at one time in my life and would have assumed she was in love with me without worrying about the truth of the matter. I am not that person now. I would wish to know if my suit would be acceptable before I present it.”

“I can understand that,” Hucknall replied. He paused a moment but then added, “Mother will be here at the end of the week to organize the ball. Perhaps if you tell her about it, she will assist you in discovering Miss Bennet’s feelings.”

Darcy thrust his cue toward the white orb, knocking one of his striped ones into a pocket. He stood and moved, silent for a few moments as he figured out which shot to attempt this time. His decision finally made, he leaned over the table and spoke. “Perhaps.” He shoved the stick, but this time it only glanced at the cue ball. He stood so the younger man could take his turn.

“If you did everything correctly, you could propose at the ball. Grand romantic gesture and all that.” Hucknall glanced up from where he was bent over his stick.

Darcy rolled his eyes. “I am uncertain I am capable of romantic gestures.” He waited while his nephew knocked a ball into a side pocket. “I will try, though. I confess I cannot imagine going back to Derbyshire without Miss Bennet.”

“What about her father? She is his caretaker.” Hucknall stood, having put another of his own balls into a pocket.

“If she and he were willing to move to Pemberley, I would be happy to have them both. If either of them wishes to stay in Hertfordshire for the remainder of his life, I am willing to do that, as well. As his son-in-law, I would be able to relieve some of the burden of running the place.” Darcy shrugged. “It would be worth it to be husband to Elizabeth.”

The viscount approached his uncle, laying his hand on the older gentleman’s shoulder. “I am happy to hear you say this. If I were you, I would take the first opportunity to ask her opinion of it.”

“I will do that. Thank you.” Darcy nodded.

Without another word between them, the two continued on with their game.

~~~***~~~

Charlotte left Longbourn the next day, frustrated. Despite placing herself in front of Darcy every single day and at every event at which they were both in attendance, he exhibited no more interest in her now than he had the first day they had met. This was much easier with Collins, she thought to herself. On the heels of that recognition was the one that insisted her late husband had been much easier led in general than Mr. Darcy was.

Added to her dissatisfaction was that Charlotte knew time was running out to secure him.  Viscount Hucknall had sent around invitations to a ball to be held in just four days. His mother, Countess Ashfield, had arrived three days ago to organize it. Charlotte had not met the lady, but rumor had it she was beautiful, gracious, and strong-willed. I do not know if I can sway her to favor me, and I do not have time to make the determination. What will I do?

Charlotte chewed her lip as she walked the path to her home. As she reached the turning, her brother was approaching from the other direction on his gelding.

“Ho, Charlotte!” His call pierced the quiet of the morning. “Wait for me and I will walk with you to the house.”

Charlotte did as he requested, stepping back when the horse shifted. “Good morning, Brother. You are out and about early.”

John Lucas lifted his brows. “I could say the same of you. I have noted you leaving the house much earlier lately.”

Charlotte shrugged. “It will do me no good to deny it. I have been going to Longbourn to visit Eliza in the mornings.”

Lucas’ brows met just above his nose when he frowned. “Why so early?”

Charlotte looked around as they walked. With a sigh and a flattening of her lips, she admitted her reasons. “I discovered Mr. Darcy has been visiting before breakfast. I have been trying to persuade him to offer for me.”

Lucas’ brows rose again. “You have?” He was silent for a moment. “I suppose he is an eligible match.”

“He is.” Charlotte’s tone was firm. “I would never have to worry about anything again. And, he is not ridiculous at all. It would be a pleasure to sit across from him at meals and converse with him before the fire in the evenings.”

“He is very different from Collins, I grant you.” Lucas looked at his sister out of the corner of his eye. “How has Darcy responded?”

Charlotte huffed. “He has not. He replies to my questions but never asks me any in return. There is no conversation between us but what I instigate.” She rolled her eyes. “Frustrating man,” she muttered.

“Would you like me to promote you to him? Perhaps hearing your praises sung by another will clear any confusion he might be feeling.”

Charlotte thought about it for a long minute, but as the pair reached the steps to the house, she shook her head. Stopping, she laid her hand on her brother’s arm. “No, do not. If he cannot see me for what I am by my own wiles, he will simply not see me at all. I will win him on my own or I will not.”

Lucas hesitated, but then gave in to his sister’s wishes. “Very well, I will remain silent, but Charlotte?” When he had her full attention, he continued. “I hope you are not pursuing Darcy because you fear being a burden to us here at Lucas Lodge. I know Father was not the best manager, but I have been able to grow our income and the value of the estate. I have diversified our holdings into factories and inventions. We have more than enough here for all of us. You are not a burden, and never could be. We love you, all of us, and wish you to remain with us forever.” He squeezed her hand as he finished.

Charlotte gazed at her brother with tears in her eyes. “Thank you. I love all of you, as well. I promise you I will not allow myself to feel that I am an encumbrance to you.”

With a smile, Lucas tucked his sister’s hand under his elbow. Giving orders to the groom that appeared, he relinquished the gelding and escorted Charlotte into the house with a teasing comment.

Chapter 8

Later that morning, Darcy descended the stairs to break his fast with his sister. He entered the breakfast room to find her already seated and sipping hot tea.

“Good morning, Brother.” Georgiana Frary lowered her cup to the table.

“Good morning, Your Grace.” Darcy winked as he turned toward the sideboard, then chuckled to hear Georgiana’s admonishment.

“That is ‘My Lady” to you. I am not a duchess and you know it, you tease.” The countess rolled her eyes behind her brother’s back.

Darcy said nothing else. He could not, for he was attempting mightily to restrain his laughter. His plate finally full, he turned, lips twitching, and seated himself at his sister’s right side. “Good morning, My Lady.” Darcy laid his hand on Georgiana’s and leaned to kiss her cheek. “You are looking quite lovely this morning.”

“Thank you. You look very well yourself.” The countess returned her brother’s kiss before leaning back and looking at him critically. “You went riding?”

Darcy paused before he answered, his mouth full of kippers. He took the time to decide how to respond to Georgiana’s inquiry. He swallowed. “I did.” He hesitated a moment. “I also visited a neighbor.”

Georgiana’s right brow rose. “Oh?”

“Yes.” Darcy dug into his eggs, not saying anything further.

With a stare that would stop most people in their tracks, the countess waited for her brother to say more, and when five long minutes had passed and she realized he did not intend to, she huffed. Narrowing her eyes at him, she pursed her lips and sniffed. “Oh, very well. Keep your own counsel for now. I will weasel it out of you sooner or later.”

“You hope.” Darcy winked and smirked.

Stiffly, Georgiana responded to his tease. “I am your closest relation. It is my right to know all of your affairs.”

Darcy sat back, eyes wide. “You sound just like Lady Catherine when you do that.” Her own eyes widening, Georgiana clapped a hand over her mouth.

“Oh, I did not mean to do that. I am sorry. It just happens; I cannot control it.”

The corners of Darcy’s lips pulled down briefly. “I accept your apology.” He shuddered. “Poor Ashfield, having to put up with that every day.” He shook his head and applied himself to his breakfast once more.

Hucknall chose that moment to enter the breakfast room. “Good morning, Mother, Uncle.”

“Good morning.” Georgiana lifted her cheek for her son to kiss. She caressed his face. “You look very fine this morning. Has one of the local ladies caught your eye?”

Hucknall glanced at Darcy. “Oh, no, not mine. There is another whose eye has been well and truly caught, though.”

“Indeed?” Georgiana had turned her attention back to her plate and missed the look her son gave her brother. “Who would that be?”

“Oh, no one in particular.” Hucknall cleared his throat. “I am afraid I am not at liberty to say.”

Georgiana’s brow twitched upwards as she lifted her head to stare at her son. “Which is it? No one, or someone you promised not to mention?”

Hucknall blushed a deep red. He stammered a response, throwing a desperate second glance at his uncle.

Seeing her son’s eyes darting toward Darcy, the countess shifted her sharp-eyed stare in his direction.

Darcy studiously applied himself to his plate, not lifting his eyes. When he reached for his cup, he caught the intense gaze of his sister and his nephew’s flustered appearance. “What?” He widened his eyes so as to appear as innocent as possible.

“Well, let us see.” Georgiana leaned forward, wrists resting lightly on the edge of the table, knife and fork in her hands. “My son speaks of some mysterious person he is unable to name who has been bewitched by a local girl, you are suddenly and inordinately interested in the kippers and eggs before you, and you visited the neighbors at an unheard-of hour of the day.”

Darcy’s countenance was soon a similar shade as his nephew’s. He cleared his throat. “What are you saying?”

Georgiana examined Darcy for a long time, staring into his eyes but saying nothing. Finally, she turned her attention back to her meal. “Nothing, Fitzwilliam.” She finished breaking her fast before any of them spoke again. “I should like to visit some of the neighbors today. I wish for both of you to accompany me.”

Darcy and Hucknall looked at each other before swiveling their gazes back to the countess.

“Of course.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Excellent.” Georgiana rose, the gentlemen standing along with her. “I will be down in a half hour. Be ready.” With that, she swept out the door. Darcy and his nephew cleared their throats, looked at each other, and dropped into their chairs to finish eating.

~~~***~~~

Darcy spent the entire afternoon escorting his sister around to meet Netherfield’s neighbors. He said not a word to her about Elizabeth. He did, however, determine to behave no differently than he usually did. If he were to be successful in his suit, Georgiana would discover his affection for the lady, regardless. He would not speak about it to her, but if she found out on her own, so be it.

Darcy had previous knowledge of where Elizabeth would be visiting today, so he took the lead in directing the driver from house to house. The third home they stopped at was Haye Park, where the Goulding family lived. As Darcy expected, the woman he was falling in love with was there.

Precedence required Georgiana, as the highest ranking member of the party, be announced first, even though she was a stranger to the resident. Her son was quick to effect introductions after that, to the relief of the entire party. She was offered the best seat in the drawing room, one that she graciously accepted as she complimented Mrs. Goulding on the beauty of the decoration.

Darcy had identified Elizabeth’s location immediately upon entering the room. At the earliest moment possible, he positioned himself upon the settee beside her as close as he dared.

“We meet again, Miss Bennet.” Darcy’s warm gaze roved Elizabeth’s face, his eyes crinkling with his delighted smile.

“Indeed.” Elizabeth laughed. “How are you this afternoon?”

“I am well.” Darcy tilted his head toward Georgiana. “My sister insisted on making calls today, so here we are.” He looked down for a moment, coloring slightly. “I confess, I made certain to direct us to this house at this particular time.” He looked up through his lashes at Elizabeth, smiling at her grin.

“Very resourceful of you, sir.” Elizabeth laughed and leaned closer to him. “I am pleased you did so,” she whispered.

Darcy’s heart stopped beating for a long moment. “Are you?” When Elizabeth nodded, the organ thumped and proceeded to beat loudly in his ears. “I am happy to hear it.” He longed to pick up her hand and lace her fingers with his, but they were out in public and he had no desire to embarrass her.

On the other side of the room, Georgiana chatted with Mrs. Goulding and that lady’s mother-in-law. Out of habit, her gaze swept the room, and she noted her brother’s attention to Elizabeth. Making a mental note of it, she continued her conversation.

A few minutes passed, and the housekeeper entered to announce another guest. “Mrs. Collins, ma’am.”

Georgiana smiled and nodded when the new visitor was introduced, then watched as the other woman greeted the rest of the party. She did not miss the way her brother and Elizabeth stiffened as Mrs. Collins approached them and sat on the other side of Darcy. She saw, though, that the trio was soon conversing, so she shrugged to herself.

On the other side of the room, Charlotte began to speak to Darcy, attempting to draw him into conversation.

“How are you today, Mr. Darcy? I did not expect to see you here.” Charlotte smiled.

Darcy’s lips lifted a little as he returned Charlotte’s greeting. I will not encourage her. Neither will I ignore Elizabeth. If not for the friendship between the two, I would cut Mrs. Collins and be done with it.

A quarter hour later, Elizabeth rose and spoke to her hostess. “I should be going. It was so nice to see you today.”

Georgiana popped out of her seat. “Look at the time! We should go, as well.”

“Oh.” Mrs. Goulding stood. “Time moves entirely too quickly when one is enjoying a visit, does it not? Thank you for coming, Lady Ashfield.” She curtseyed. “You, as well, Miss Bennet. Please give your father our best.”

Elizabeth smiled warmly. “I will do that.” With a curtsey, she turned to make her way out of the room, finding Darcy behind her.

“May I escort you?” Darcy extended his arm to her.

“You may.” Smiling, Elizabeth curled her hand around his forearm.

Darcy led Elizabeth out of the room. He leaned down and whispered, “Finally, we escape Mrs. Collins for a bit.”

Elizabeth giggled, bringing her free hand over her mouth.

His eyes twinkling and a smirk twisting his lips, Darcy spoke quietly once more. “I should like to dance with you again.”

Elizabeth looked up at him with her head tilted. “I should, as well.”

“Do you plan to attend my nephew’s ball?”

“I have not been invited.”

Darcy reared back, eyes wide. He came to a complete stop a few feet from the line of carriages in front of the house. “How can that be?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “Perhaps the viscount intended to invite us personally?”

His lips pulled downward and his brow creased, Darcy hailed his nephew. “Hucknall.” When the young man turned, Darcy gestured him closer.

“What is the matter?” The viscount’s brow was wrinkled.

“How is it that Miss Bennet has not received an invitation to your ball?” Darcy glared at the younger man.

Hucknall’s eyes grew wide. “She should have. I gave it to Dalrymple to give her. Something must have happened to prevent him.”

“If you gave it to Neville, it is likely shoved into the pocket of his waistcoat, wrinkled beyond recognition.” Elizabeth chuckled.

“You are probably right.” The viscount shook his head. “I apologize. You and your father are definitely invited to the ball. Your sister and her family, as well. We will stop by their house and invite them on our way back to Netherfield.”

“Thank you, sir. I would be happy to attend. My father may join me, but he usually stays at home.”

Darcy laid his free hand over Elizabeth’s and squeezed. “Since you are to attend, may I request your hand for the first set?”

Elizabeth softly smiled. “You may. I would be delighted to dance that set with you.”

“Will you save me the supper set, as well?” Darcy’s eyes roamed Elizabeth’s face, his desire to kiss her nearly overwhelming.

“I will.” Elizabeth’s smile grew wider.

Darcy took a deep breath. “And … the last? Will you dance the last with me?”

“And scandalize the neighborhood?” Elizabeth grinned. “I will.”

“Dancing with you is worth any scandal that may occur.” Darcy lifted Elizabeth’s hand, kissing her fingers. He escorted her to her carriage, kissing her hand again before assisting her into the equipage. Once she was safely inside and the door shut, he instructed the coachman to move on and stood watching as the carriage trundled down the drive. Then, he hastened to his nephew’s carriage, sitting on the rear-facing seat.

“So, Brother, tell me about Miss Bennet.” Georgiana’s eyes gleamed. “Then you can explain what in the world was going on with Mrs. Collins.”

As the carriage made its way back to Netherfield, Darcy relieved his sister’s curiosity, explaining his growing affection for Elizabeth Bennet and his frustration with Charlotte Collins’ interference.

“That is a conundrum, is it not?” Georgiana flicked her gaze up and down over her brother’s form before turning it toward the window. “Perhaps I can help?”

Darcy shrugged. “Perhaps, but I do not know how.”

“Uncle, you told me the other day you were uncertain of Miss Bennet’s regard.”

“Surely not. Anyone with eyes can see that she is enamored of you, and you of her.” Georgiana shook her head.

“She did give me an indication today that her feelings toward me are positive.”

Georgiana snorted. “Call it that if you like, but I am telling you, she likes you very much.” Shaking her head, she leaned back in her seat, muttering.

Darcy narrowed his eyes at his sister. “You know, superiority is very unattractive, especially in a woman.”

Georgiana lifted her face to the ceiling. “I will not address that statement except to say Ashfield loves me despite it, so your theory is clearly flawed.”

“Ashfield is stuck with you. He has no choice,” Darcy replied, flatly.

Hucknall cleared his throat. “As fascinating as this glimpse into the interactions between siblings is, perhaps it might be better served if it waited until we were in the privacy of our home?” He looked between his mother and uncle. “If that is acceptable to both of you.”

Georgiana looked down at her hands and Darcy blushed.

“You are correct. I apologize, to you, Nephew and to you, Sister.”

“I am sorry, as well.” Georgiana looked up. “I forgot myself.”

Hucknall’s stiff shoulders relaxed. “Good. Thank you both.”

The trio rode in silence for a few minutes. It was Georgiana who broke it.

“I suspect Mrs. Collins has set her cap at you?”

Darcy’s eyes moved away from the window to look at his sister. “It seems so.”

“You, being a gentleman, have said nothing to her?”

“No, I have not.” Darcy sighed. “I have no wish to be rude and she is Elizabeth’s friend.”

“Hmmm.” Georgiana looked out the window but remained silent until the carriage slowed to make a turn. Then, she turned her gaze back to her brother. “Perhaps I can help you.”

Darcy bit his lip and shrugged. “I do not know what you could do.”

“I can give her a hint that you are not interested.” Georgiana lifted her chin. “You have seen our aunts in action. Do you not think I am also capable of putting someone in their place?”

“Oh, I think you are eminently capable. I simply am uncertain how effective it would be for you to do so.” Darcy glanced back out the window and then to his hands, which were clasped in his lap. He looked up at his sister once more and exhaled. “However, I give you leave to try. If it works, I will be forever grateful; if it does not.” He shrugged again. “At least you made the attempt.”

Georgiana smiled softly. “I will do my best.”

Conversation moved on then to the ball, and soon, they were back at Netherfield.

The story continues here.

~~~***~~~

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2 thoughts on “Thursday’s 300: A MUCH Later Meeting, Part 17

  1. I am so anxious to read this all in one setting. I saw that you gave away free copies, but missed getting in on that. When do you expect to publish this book. I am dying to read the whole thing!

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